Four Facts to Know About a New Delaware Riverkeeper Commissioned Study

A new study developed by CNA Analysis and Solutions for the anti-fracking Delaware Riverkeeper Network makes the claim that “fracking could irreversibly damage the economy and drinking water” in the Delaware River Basin (DRB). Unsurprisingly, the report not only ignored the scientific consensus that hydraulic fracturing does not pose a credible threat to drinking water, it also failed to look at the best practices being deployed across the Commonwealth where Marcellus development has been occurring for over a decade.

Here are a few important facts to keep in mind when reading the report:

Fact #1: The report was funded and reviewed by anti-fracking activists.

On its website, the Delaware Riverkeeper Network states its opposition to fracking pretty clearly:

“Delaware Riverkeeper Network and many groups representing hundreds of thousands of members have called for a permanent ban on gas development in the Watershed since the dangerous practices involved are not compatible with maintaining and sustaining the water resources and ecosystems of the Delaware River Watershed.”

And that’s not the only time this organization, a 501-C(3), has vocally opposed and lobbied against fracking in both Pennsylvania and New York. As State Impact reported, following New York’s announcement that it would ban fracking (emphasis added):

This is good news to activists like Maya van Rossum, from the Delaware Riverkeeper. Van Rossum has been fighting to keep gas rigs out of eastern Pennsylvania since 2008. She says New York’s health and environmental study, along with Cuomo’s subsequent decision, means her work has paid off.

Van Rossum says she wants the DRBC to permanently ban drilling in the Delaware watershed. “I’m certainly feeling very very positive that the ban could become permanent,” said van Rossum.

In the press release for the report Van Rossum states policy makers should “reject any attempt to open up any portion of the Delaware River watershed to fracking and shale gas extraction.” Is anyone really shocked that a report paid for by known activists would reach the activists’ desired conclusions?

But that’s not where the bias ends by any stretch. The authors also make it known that the report was “extensively reviewed” – by reviewers who are also vocally opposed to fracking:

CNA2015TY

And sure enough there’s a few names that immediately stand out including Art Berman, Kevin Heatley, Paul Rubin and even the thoroughly debunked Robert Howarth and Anthony Ingraffea.

Berman sits on the board for the Association for the Study of Peak Oil & Gas, an organization that describes itself as “a network of scientists, affiliated with institutions and universities, having an interest in determining the date and impact of the peak and decline of the world’s production of oil and gas, due to resource constraints.” (emphasis added) He’s made several predictions as to when the industry will collapse and was quoted in Rolling Stone in 2012 comparing oil and gas companies to “Ponzi schemes.”

Kevin Heatley is an activist who moved his family to Lycoming County just before the Marcellus boom began. He’s a frequent blogger for Shale Justice, offers “expert” advice to the anti-fracking Responsible Drilling Alliance, and has even traveled to speak at events like “Let’s Ban Fracking in Michigan” and “Shale Gas Outrage.”

Paul Rubin frequented anti-fracking rallies in New York where he actually told audiences that methane leaks from natural gas wells would trigger earthquakes, claiming “even the smallest of cracks could allow natural gas to seep into aquifers and potentially trigger earthquakes.” In other words, he skipped the science and went straight to a theory that is so off the wall, it doesn’t even register in scientific discussion.

Last but certainly not least, we have Howarth and Ingraffea who are still peddling a study claiming astronomical methane emissions from shale development that has been thoroughly debunked by numerous institutions and agencies. Ingraffea was part of Governor Cuomo’s “expert” list that led to the New York fracking ban and prides himself on injecting “advocacy-laced words and phrases in our papers.” He also admits (emphasis added),

“I’d be lying if I said that I don’t… that I haven’t entered any of the studies that I have participated in in the last five years that led to my being able to publically speak or publish in peer-review papers… I’d be lying if I told you I went into every one of those with an entirely objective, blank opinion. I didn’t know. I didn’t care. Whatever happened when the numbers were done, I’d be [inaudible]. I’d be lying if I said that. I’m sorry. [cross talk] It would be untrue.”

So this “study” was funded by an organization opposed to shale development and then “extensively reviewed” by anti-fracking activists—talk about an echo chamber!

Fact #2: EPA and state regulations have found no credible threat to groundwater in Pennsylvania, or across the country.

The CNA report claims hydraulic fracturing will

  • “Raise in-stream concentrations of contaminants, including barium and strontium, up to 500 percent above the normal rate, an alarming increase in pollutants.”

  • “Contaminate river headwaters, increasing sedimentation and erosion rates up to 150 percent, degrading water quality and ecosystems there and downstream.”

Those claims are directly contradicted by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which recently released a comprehensive, five year report declaring fracking has “not led to widespread, systemic impacts to drinking water resources.”

Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC) also released a report looking at water collected in Pennsylvania and New York since 2010 and found that Marcellus Shale development has not negatively impacted water quality in the river basin. From the SRBC press release:

            Of the 58 watersheds covered in this report, SRBC has observed:

  • with continuous monitoring from 2010-2013, data collected did not indicate any changes in water quality;

  • with a few exceptions, the water chemistry at the monitoring stations indicates good water quality; and

  • the results of aquatic insect monitoring were not affected by the density of upstream natural gas wells or pads.

The CNA report also cites water withdrawals as a reason not to move forward with shale development in the Delaware River Basin. The researchers claim lifting the moratorium would,

“Remove up to 70 percent of water in small streams, permanently depleting crucial flows and increasing damaging runoff, turning some of the highest quality streams into ditches.” (emphasis added)

That figure is unfounded and doesn’t take into account Pennsylvania’s strict regulations or best management practices. In fact, the SRBC treats all water used in the hydraulic fracturing process as consumptive and the natural gas industry is the only industry in the state where regulation starts with the very first drop of water removed from the basin. The SRBC uses a scientific method of determining the amount of withdrawal allowed based on the flow of the water source and has, at times, even halted withdrawals during periods of low flow.

Further, Andrew J. Gavin, deputy executive director of the SRBC, was recently quoted in an Associated Press article highlighting the fact Marcellus operators have significantly decreased the amount of fresh water they withdraw from the river:

“Water use by the natural gas industry in the Susquehanna River Basin peaked at about 3.8 billion gallons in 2011 and that figure declined to about 3.1 billion gallons in 2013.” (emphasis added)

Marcellus Shale operators are currently recycling 90 percent of their flowback water, which is part of the reason for the decrease in water withdrawals. As best management practices and available technology continue to improve, so too will the amount of water needed to stimulate a well as the last decade of Marcellus development has demonstrated.

The reality is right next door to the DRB, the SRB now has a pretty long history of shale development without any negative impacts, and it doesn’t take a $120,000 study to see that.

Fact #3: CNA’s estimates aren’t even close to reality.

For instance, the CAN report says,

  • “If the moratoriums on fracking were lifted, there could be as many as 4,000 wells fracked in the Interior Marcellus within the DRB in future years, requiring between 500–1,000 well pads.”

And that allowing fracking would,

  • “Require 18 to 26 square miles of land, the equivalent to building as many as 840 Walmart Supercenters.”

Tom Shepstone at NaturalGasNow lays out just how off those numbers actually are (emphasis added):

We learn on page 11, for example, it assumed “a 4,000-foot lateral length and 500 feet of spacing between laterals.” It only takes a few seconds on Google to learn every company is extending laterals, some to as much as 10,000 feet, with Range Resources aiming for a 5,200 feet average as of last year and Cabot averaging 5,300 feet. It we use Cabot’s figure and use a little of the geometry we learned in high school, that means each well pad covers 33% more land with a rectangular well pad layout, reducing earth disturbance in the process. That, in turn, means a 25% reduction in the number of wells. There goes 1,000 wells.

But, that isn’t all. No, the 500 feet average spacing figure is also off. Spacing today can range between 600 and 750 feet. The 600 feet common to all producers in Northeastern Pennsylvania will increase the amount of land from which one well pad can draw gas by another 7% and lowers the number of wells by another 160 wells or 4%.

The entire 4,000 well scenario is based on a foundation of sand, if you will, and sand doesn’t yield shale gas. The real number of likely pads and wells, is less than half of what CNA has projected.

Further, it’s worth remembering that resources that were once only accessible with ten or twelve rigs are now accessible from a single well pad, thanks to horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing. This shift led Sally Jewell to explain, “By using directional drilling and fracking, we have an opportunity to have a softer footprint on the land.”

Fact #4: The CNA report ignores reports that methane and other pollutants are significantly declining in areas with shale development.

The CNA report makes claims that fracking in the DRB will,

  • “Contribute to methane emissions from the Marcellus Shale, adding 1.4 to 5.8 billion cubic feet of methane each year to the atmosphere.”

  • “As much as double nitrogen oxide emissions where fracking would occur, creating dangerous smog in the long term in areas with currently clean, high quality air.”

According to a report from the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), which monitored air quality surrounding natural gas wells,

“when looking at the individual operations, the emissions do not seem to create ambient air pollution conditions where acute adverse health impacts are expected.”

What’s more, in DEP’s most recent Marcellus Air Emissions Inventory, DEP Secretary John Quigley said,

“While we are experiencing some increases in emissions from the natural gas sector, overall, our air quality continues to improve due to emissions reductions from other point sources such as electric generating units,” Quigley said. “We remain committed to developing and implementing the most effective ways to control and reduce emissions from Pennsylvania’s natural gas sites.” (emphasis added)

And in the 2012 DEP natural gas emissions inventory, DEP highlighted that the total emissions reductions represented “between $14 billion and $37 billion of annual public health benefits” and then DEP Secretary, Chris Abruzzo, went on to say:

“It is important to note that across-the-board emission reductions … can be attributed to the steady rise in the production and development of natural gas, the greater use of natural gas, lower allowable emissions limits, installation of control technology and the deactivation of certain sources.” (emphasis added)

Even EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy acknowledges the tremendous benefits of natural gas from a climate change perspective:

Hydrofracking has certainly changed the energy dynamic considerably. You are absolutely right, it has created an opportunity for a shift…into natural gas, and that shift has been enormously beneficial from a clean air perspective, as well as from a climate perspective.” [emphasis added]

Conclusion:

Landowners have been asking the Delaware River Basin Commission to move forward with regulations and lift the moratorium on shale development for years, as they watch their neighbors in the SRB experiencing the multitude of benefits shale development can provide without the gloom and doom scenario this report attempts to create.

The activity occurring just outside of the DRB has brought in billions of dollars in revenue and impact fees—even within the counties under the DRBC moratorium—and created hundreds of thousands of jobs for the entire state.

After over a decade of continuous Marcellus Shale development it’s clear that Pennsylvania’s oil and gas industry is being properly regulated to allow for development and environmental protection.

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